SISTER Tracey Sutton-Becker took her first vows in the single consecrated life (SCL) in August — 51 years after she first felt a calling to the religious life as an eight-year-old girl.
“I feel like I have come home to a place God has always prepared for me,” she said this week. “It’s like waking up and finding everything makes sense in your life. It has given me a sense of my place in God’s Kingdom, a sense of vision, mission, and vocation.”
She joins 44 other members of the growing SCL network, which was launched in 2005 and now receives enquiries from around the world. Speaking after the annual conference last month, members described how it had enabled them to respond to a call that had, in many cases, been difficult to understand or articulate.
The network was launched after research by the then Bishop of Monmouth, the Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS, and Sister Christine, of the Community of St John the Divine, revealed an increasing number of requests from bishops and others for advice and guidance about those seeking admission to the consecrated celibate life.
The network began in a small way. A sub-group of the Advisory Council for the Relations between Bishops and Religious Communities (ACRBRC) was formed, guidelines were drawn up, a rite was approved for consecration services, and an episcopal adviser was appointed. Today, four or five services of vows are held every year, and five mature members of the network lead it, as its deans.
Among them is the Revd Dr Susan Hartley, spiritual director and chaplain at Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust, who made her life vow in 2003 at St Paul’s Cathedral. Asked to define consecrated celibacy, she draws on the work of Professor Sandra Schneiders IBVM, a Roman Catholic Sister, who has described it as “a freely chosen response to a personally discerned vocation” which is “a gift of God to the person and through the person to the Church”.
The resurgence of this vocation means “going right back to the Church’s roots”, she suggests. Today, enquiries come from all over the world about this “fresh expression of the Anglican religious life”, including a recent request from a woman in South Korea.
Sister Tracey discovered the existence of SCL after meeting a member at On Fire Mission: “It was like all the lights went on, and like I suddenly felt this is where God has been calling me to all this time.”
She had wanted to become a nun as an eight-year-old girl, and, for some years, had been wearing a head-covering. “I knew for so long that something was going on in my mind and heart and spirit, and could not find a name for it,” she said. During a period of discernment, she learned that “I wasn’t running away from anything, but neither was I running towards something. I was simply being what God has called me to be, in that place of grace.”
She took her vows in August, in front of the Bishop of Portsmouth, and describes membership of the network as “like suddenly finding my family”. Wearing a scapula means that “people feel like they can talk: you are not a threat to them.”
“I have given God everything I can give, and done so gladly, and with such joy in my heart,” she said. “I am willing to do anything as long as it’s according to his will.”
Johanna Raffan first decided to dedicate her life to God after being confirmed, “but he does work in mysterious ways, and, in the summer before I went to university, I met a guy at a bus stop, and we were married for 50 years.” She became a companion of the Community of the Resurrection, and, after her husband died, six years ago, “the Lord was back in my ear”.
Looking for “something slightly deeper”, she discovered SCL in the Anglican Religious Life handbook, and had two meetings with the then Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, before taking life vows. She is now also a member of the Society of the Resurrection (a development associated with the Community at Mirfield), and finds that the two “mirror each other”. She values the SCL network “because of the variety of people, who come from all backgrounds and all church experiences”, and its “guidelines for a daily life”. She says at least two of four offices of the day, and believes that SCL has brought her “a lot closer to God. . . I have had two wedding rings, and so the one is the earthly marriage and the other is the heavenly marriage, and that closeness and going greater into the love of God is ever so peaceful.”
The Revd Beverley Smith, a priest in the diocese of Monmouth and a registered nurse, was working full-time for the NHS when she first took her vow in 2006. “What was really important for me was that it is a step that you can take and . . . still live an ordinary life,” she says. For many years, she felt a call related to “earlier people who had lived vowed lives, like Julian of Norwich, but I did not really understand what it was all about”. The SCL vow “sets you free to have relationships with all kinds of people, and not be worried about it”, and joining brings “your own sense of identity and of your own inner power. No matter what situation you are in, it makes you less vulnerable. . . You know where you are coming from, and that is it. It is a boundary that will not be crossed: it’s so much more comfortable to have friendships and relationships.”
The Revd Catherine Wood, who was ordained in New Zealand, where she joined the Franciscans, had felt a call to the religious life for about 25 years before joining SCL, “but did not know how to locate it”. While serving in the C of E, she met Sister Anita of the Community of the Sisters of the Church, and was invited to live with the community as an “alongsider”. She went on to test her vocation for a “wonderful” year with the Community of St Francis, where it became clear that the more traditional religious life was “not for me”. But she also learned about SCL, and made her life profession in 2015, also becoming a dean.
“The blessing of SCL is that it enables a different pathway of the religious life, but one that goes back to biblical times,” she says. “It’s very ancient, and at the same time very new.”
Now a professed religious, living and working with the Community of the Sisters of the Church, she suggests that because SCL is under the umbrella of Anglican Religious Communities it gives “that sense of being held by the Church and accountable to the Church”. For those who are older and may be divorced or widowed, joining an order can be “too big an adaptation” she says. “SCL enables people to fulfil their religious vocation while being able to retain quite a large degree of independence.”
The Deans can be contacted via the SCL website: www.singleconsecratedlife-anglican.org.uk.